Forcing the Issue
How House Democrats plan to take advantage of Republican overreach on abortion.
That's most of the plan. The rest of the plan, as Israel explains, is making life difficult for some of the pro-life Republicans who were swept into Congress last year. The theory is that voters sort of elected them by accident. And they are numerous. At this year's March for Life, an annual rally against legal abortion, 17 newly elected members of Congress spoke, stretching the speechifying part of the event about an hour longer than scheduled.
The new members include lots of people who took over suburban districts that had been trending more liberal. The Republicans who won, in most cases, didn't run on abortion. They got pro-life support—the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List endorsed 14 Republican congressional candidates who took over Democratic seats. But Democrats remain convinced that the new class was never smoked out.
Take Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y., one of the Democrats' favorite examples. She started in politics as a spokeswoman for Operation Rescue in the 1980s. She didn't hide this fact, but when she began running, she said she'd "be really careful not to make this a referendum on abortion." Her opponent, incumbent Rep. Dan Maffei, tried to make abortion an issue. He lost. And when Buerkle got to Congress she immediately became a prominent pro-life advocate. Pro-choice activists can explain all of this, or try to.
"When somebody's out of a job and looking for one party to fix that, he tends to vote with his pocketbook," says NARAL's Shipp. "It was probably more difficult for us to get through the noise last year."
It is tough for abortion rights activists to get through the noise. That's what the Planned Parenthood stings were all about: a way to win turf on an issue both sides had been entrenched on since the age of Betamax. Also effective for doing this: Making the man on the street worry that Congress is about to redefine rape.
Correction, Feb. 17, 2011: This article originally misspelled Elizabeth Shipp's last name. ( Return to the corrected sentence.)
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.
Photograph of Rep. Steve Israel in the public domain.